JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: And my final note on this today, I think all these candidates really did a great service to the electorate by showing up today, talking about issues, bringing their A game. I think everyone acquitted themselves in fine fashion just by being there. It`s an important electorate, and they had to be there.
That`s it for ALL IN this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You had such an incredible day today, Joy.
REID: It was -- it started really early like at 3:00 a.m. out of my bed. So I was a little tired. But it was really fascinating to hear how they interacted with those crowds. All of them were different. All of them were good in their own way. It was really -- it was a fascinating and great day.
MADDOW: I mean, it was an amazing event. It was very well moderated. You did a really, really, really good job.
And the tape, just seeing as you say, seeing the different approaches of all of those different candidates, seeing the interactions, seeing the crowd response, seeing the way they handled the crowd response and how they were able to convey their sincerity on these issue, it was just incredible.
I`ve seen a lot of these forums. I`ve seen a lot of these cattle call events. This one was just stunning. You did an amazing, amazing job today, Joy. Well done.
REID: Thank you so much. And kudos to Aimee Allison who put that whole thing together and moderated with me. She was amazing.
And have a great show.
MADDOW: Thank you.
REID: Thanks. Cheers.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It`s great to have you here.
So this I did not see coming. "The Washington Post" tonight publishing an unexpected op-ed from former secretary of state, former senator, former first lady and the Democratic presidential nominee who received several million more votes for president than Donald Trump did in 2016, but still lost to him in the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton publishing an op-ed in "The Washington Post" tonight titled "Mueller documented a serious crime against all Americans. Here`s how to respond."
And as the title implies, it is a prescriptive thing. It`s essentially a map for advancing from the Mueller report, and it does not pull punches.
This is the lead, quote: Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller`s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.
The debate about how to respond to Russia`s sweeping and systemic attack, which is how Mueller described it, and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law has been reduced, Hillary Clinton says, to a false choice, immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there is a better way to think about the choices ahead.
She says, quote: What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller`s report leaves many unanswered questions, but it is a road map. It is up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads, to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment or not.
Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the Mueller report and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up or down vote on impeachment. In 1998, the Republican-led House rushed to judgment. That was a mistake then and would be a mistake now. She is referring there, of course, to the impeachment proceedings in the House against her husband in 1998.
She then says, quote, Watergate offers a better precedent. Then as now, there was an investigation that found evidence of corruption and a cover- up. It was complimented by public hearings conducted by a Senate Select Committee, which insisted that executive privilege could not be used to shield criminal conduct and compel White House aides to testify. The televised hearings added to the actual record and crucially helped the public understand the facts in a way that no dense legal report could.
Similar hearings with Mueller, former White House counsel Don McGahn, and other key witnesses could do the same today. Clinton then calls for the House Judiciary Committee to appoint a respected leader to lead an impeachment investigation, just as the Watergate era Judiciary Committee did when they hired a former Justice Department official named John Doar. Clinton then calls for an independent bipartisan commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission to help protect our elections from future attacks like the one we suffered in 2016.
She cites "The New York Times" report today that White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney reportedly told the homeland security secretary that she should not bring up the Russian threat to attack the 2020 election. She shouldn`t bring that up with President Trump because President Trump didn`t want to hear anything about that. Clinton references that report from "The Times" today and calls that, quote, the latest example of an administration that refuses to take even the most minimal common sense steps to protect future attacks and counter ongoing threats to our nation.
And, of course, at this point, you know, implicit there is the argument that if the current president, if the sitting president isn`t protecting the country, if he is effectively stopping the rest of his administration and therefore the rest of the federal government from protecting the country from this kind of foreign attack, well, then, somebody`s got to step up and do it, right? Implicit in this critique from Clinton is this imperative that she feels that if nobody else is going to lead on this because the president won`t or worse, then she`ll try to, even if all she`s got is the op-ed page now from which to do it.
But in this surprise op-ed tonight, she is calling on Congress to take the reins on this, and she is calling on regular citizens to make them do it. She says, quote, we have to get this right. The Mueller report isn`t just a reckoning about our recent history. It is a warning about the future.
Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020 and possibly other adversaries such as China or North Korea will as well. This is an urgent threat. Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America`s future.
And unless he`s held accountable, the president, meaning Donald Trump, may show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of his office. He will likely redouble his efforts to advance Putin`s agenda, including rolling back sanctions, weakening NATO, and undermining the European Union. Of all the lessons from our history, the one that`s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens.
She closes: A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it is up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.
Hillary Clinton writing tonight in "The Washington Post" in response to the Mueller report and in response to the ongoing fallout and political fights that have happened since the report was finally released in redacted form last week. I think the headline here is that she is calling not for an immediate vote on impeachment the way the Republican-led Congress immediately went right to an impeachment vote as soon as they got the Ken Starr vote. She is calling instead for the Watergate model, the Democratic-led committees in the House and I think she would say the Republican-led committees in the Senate is what she is implying should open investigations that build on the Mueller report, that fill in the gaps. And if they lean toward impeachment, let them do it. But they ought to fill out this record on their own.
Now, we have asked Secretary Clinton if she wants to come on the show and talk about this and talk about her response to the Mueller report more broadly. I have nothing to report to you at this point in terms to the response to that request, but you will be first to know if and when to schedule that interview. I will keep you posted.
But on the subject of the fallout from Mueller`s report and the response to it, I will tell you, I was surprised to see this Hillary Clinton op-ed tonight. I was even more surprised to see a super strange development in the aftermath of the Mueller report tonight that was published by Bloomberg News. It was right around the time this Hillary Clinton op-ed posted.
We got this gem posted at Bloomberg News. It`s a screen shot of a series of text messages, and the date on this string of text messages is supposedly October 30th, 2016. So right before is the 2016 presidential election. And you can read what it says there.
To Michael M. Cohen, the president`s long-time personal lawyer. Outgoing message to him says, quote: Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia, but not sure if there is anything else. Just so you know.
Cohen then responds: Tapes of what? The sender responds: Not sure of the content, but person in Moscow was bragging had tapes from Russia trip.
Next message: We`ll try to dial you tomorrow, but wanted to be aware. Next message: I`m sure it`s not a big deal, but there are lots of stupid people.
"Bloomberg" then reports that the next two checks in the chain are Michael Cohen saying you have no idea and the initial sender replying back to him, I do, trust me.
So, you know what that`s about, right? I did not see this coming. Specifically, in the most immediate sense, what this is about is a very provocative little tiny piece of Mueller`s redacted report. A little piece of Mueller`s report which raises eyebrows for everybody who looks at it, but nobody really knows what to do with it.
It`s from the part of the Mueller report where Mueller is describing Trump`s interact was former FBI Director James Comey, and James Comey`s contemporaneous notes and memos and all their interactions. This part of the report explains how during the presidential transition, January 2017, before the inauguration, Comey and other law enforcement and intelligence officials went to Trump tower to brief Trump and some other transition officials on Russia`s attack on the election, and then thereafter, Comey also privately briefed Trump on the contents of the Steele dossier, this document that was circulating in journalistic and law enforcement circles in D.C. and Comey briefed the president on it privately, one to one, basically because these law enforcement officials and intelligence officials believed that the president-elect should know that this document was out there and what it said.
Now famously, of course, one of the things that Steele dossier said was that part of the Russian government`s leverage over Trump is that there was allegedly some tape, some videotape showing Trump`s behavior in Moscow during a previous business trip which was supposedly of a salacious and embarrassing nature, something involving a hotel and some ladies and never mind. Nobody has ever proved this tape or these tapes exist. The whole point was that in this dossier, which was circulating in D.C., that tape or those tapes were alleged to exist.
And the point of that being mentioned in the dossier was this allegation that President-elect Trump was somehow over a barrel with Russia. They could blackmail him. They had leverage over him. They had something on him that he wouldn`t want anybody to know about.
And so, since that accusation about the president-elect was circulating, intelligence and law enforcement officials at the highest level believed that the president should know about it. They`re not going to keep it from him. They should know that that is out there.
That`s the context about this part of the Mueller report describing that briefing. Pop down to the footnotes for the real news here, though. Footnote 112.
Comey`s briefing included the Steele reporting`s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the president involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. Oh really?
On October 30th, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze. Rtskhiladze said that -- told Cohen that he, quote, stopped flow of tapes from Russia but he`s not sure if there is anything else, just so you know. Again, this is a footnote in the Mueller report.
The Mueller report then cites a October 30th, 2016, text message from Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said tapes, referring to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group which helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia.
And continuing with this part of the Mueller report in this footnote. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen said that in an FBI interview, according to Mueller`s report. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. He said that in an FBI interview.
So, I mean, first of all, let me just be clear -- I have no idea if that`s actually how you say this dude`s name, OK? He is a Georgian businessman, not Atlanta, Georgia, the former Soviet Georgia. He was involved in Trump business deals over there. He is now, I should tell you, Georgian- American. He became a naturalized citizen a couple of years ago.
But his name -- his last name literally starts with five straight consonants before you get to a very unhelpful vowel. And so, I apologize for not knowing how to pronounce things that start with the letters RTSKH, in that order. I really don`t know. I`m sorry. I`m going to go with Rtskhiladze. Rtskhiladze.I`m going to go with Rtskhiladze until I`m corrected. So, I`m sorry about that.
But the news here unfolds in an odd way. Republicans in particular, the White House specifically, and a lot of the press have derided the Christopher Steele dossier, right? And they have particularly derided this claim about there being this alleged tape of Trump`s behavior from a Moscow trip, a tape being held in Moscow as leverage against him. Well, that`s been derided left, right and center, that claim from the Steele dossier, right?
But according to the Mueller report, it turns out before the election and well before any of the Steele dossier or anything like that claim ever saw the light of day, a guy Trump actually did know from business connections in the former Soviet Union actually did get in touch with Michael Cohen to tell him to tell Trump that he was stopping the flow of some tapes from Russia. Person in Moscow bragging "had tapes from Russia trip." oh, good, he stopped the tapes from getting out of Russia.
And according to Mueller, Cohen then told Trump about that before the election. So that means Trump knew that somewhere in the former Soviet Union, a business buddy of his had taken action to make sure tapes, supposedly from Trump`s trip to Russia, those tapes weren`t getting out. Don`t worry, all taken care of. I took care of that for you, right?
And that`s -- that`s in the Mueller report. Footnote 112, volume 2. Just dangling out there like a thread that`s screaming tie me off! Are you crazy? Snip me. Snip. This can`t be left.
Now, "Bloomberg News", Stephanie Baker and Helena Bedwell at "Bloomberg News" have got ahold of the Trump business contact from Georgia who supposedly took care of this tapes problem for him. He is the one who provided to Bloomberg today this longer screen shot of what he says was his text exchange with Michael Cohen right before the election so we can see the full context of his remarks about the supposed tapes.
And remember, in the Mueller report, they only quoted this one text: Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia. Not sure if there is anything else. Just so you know.
Well, now, this businessman is providing the texts of the rest of the conversation as context, because this lawyer tells "Bloomberg News" the way that message shows up in the Mueller report isn`t fair. Rtskhiladze`s lawyers telling "Bloomberg" that Mueller`s report`s footnote includes only part of the text exchange with Cohen, failing to provide the full context. The FBI and Mueller`s team, quote, spliced the dialogue to produce the ugly insinuations and allegations of footnote 112 to attract publicity.
And so, therefore because it`s been so taken out of context and this is so unfair, this Georgian businessman wants these other texts in the same string of conversation to be made public too, including the immediate follow-on text which explains that these tapes were allegedly were from the Russia trip, which is exactly what you would expect to see here if it really turns out in real life that Trump knew full well he was explicitly warned ahead of the election while Russia was interfering in the election to help him that there were some sort of tapes about him, allegedly from his Russia trip back in the day, and those tapes were being kept inside Russia by a business associate who was doing him a favor.
And just so you know, Michael Cohen, I`m on it over here when it comes to those tapes. I`m stopping the flow of those tapes out of Russia, because otherwise, they`d be out there without my intervention.
I mean, honestly, personally, the one thing I refuse to let myself think about was the prospect of incriminating salacious tapes or Trump being warned that there were incriminating salacious tapes of him in Russia, tapes that Russia could let out into the world, but they were stopping that from happening. I mean, that`s the one part of this whole ridiculous D- grade movie we have been living through that I refuse to let sit in my brain when thinking about this president and this scandal and Russia messing with our election to benefit him, and him potentially be compromised by Russia at the same time.
I mean, I just didn`t want to think about the whole tapes thing, but now, here`s the whole tapes thing. And the revelation in the Mueller report that Trump was not hearing about those supposed tapes of him in Russia for the first time when he heard about it from James Comey during the transition. He had already heard about it from this connected businessman in the former Soviet Union before the election.
So that happened today. Enjoy your dinner. Tums and roll aids right there next to the TV, take as many as you need.
The aftermath of the Mueller report is apparently even today still opening up new spigots of information, but it is starting to become clear that there are two areas of trouble that appear to be most unsettling to the president at this point in the process. Two areas where the president and the White House are scrambling harder than they are on anything else to try to stop ongoing investigations in their tracks. The first clearly is financial issue, the money trail.
There is no indication in Mueller`s report that Mueller investigated anything having to do with the president`s business or financial entanglements at all. There just isn`t information than stuff in Mueller`s report or any reference that we can see at least in the parts that are unredacted. That`s actually in keeping with warnings that we`ve had from months from Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
Adam Schiff has repeatedly said that Mueller wasn`t looking at that. That said, today, the president spoke to reporters at the White House and said oh, yes, Mueller did do that. He must have.
The president told reporters today at the White House, quote, now, Mueller, I assume checked my taxes, checked my financials, which are great. All you have to do is go look at the records. They`re all over the place. But they checked my financials and they checked my taxes.
They did? You know that? Really? Turns out no, the White House does not know that. An anonymous source quickly walked that back to CNN`s Jim Acosta tonight saying actually, despite the president`s remarks to that effect, they have no idea, they have no idea if Mueller looked at Trump`s taxes or financials.
But there is a reason President Trump is saying that anyway. There is a reason he is saying oh, sure, Mueller looked at my taxes. Mueller went through all my financials. That`s done. No need to look there. It`s already taken care of.
I mean, the president made those soon-to-be walked back comments about Mueller`s investigation today in the middle of him arguing to reporters that his financials and his taxes are all out of bounds for any further investigation. And, you know, sometimes he says that`s because his taxes are under audit, and so nobody`s allowed to look at them. Sometimes he says his finances are just a red line, and crossing that red line would give him grounds to fire anyone who tries to take a look at them. Sometimes, now as of today, he says oh, Mueller already looked at all of that stuff, and turned out it`s all fine.
None of those things are true, but he rolls out new excuses and new explanations for why people can`t look at his finances and his taxes all the time. He really doesn`t want any investigators looking at his finances or his taxes. His actions tell you that even more emphatically than his words.
We are now two days in to the IRS just flatly refusing to hand over the president`s taxes to the ways and means committee chairman. They are required by very simple direct law to do that. It`s a law that as far as we know nobody has ever broken before. So we`re not sure how this is going to be adjudicated now that they`re just saying no.
One former treasury saying now if Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continues to block the IRS from handing over the returns, if Mnuchin, quote, does not turn over the requested turns, he has likely engaged in the most serious executive branch defiance of law since the Nixon administration. That`s becoming a theme.
In addition to, as far to them just defying the law in the issue of the tax returns, there is also this funny little lawsuit the president has filed in his personal capacity to try to stop his accounting firm from handing over financial documents about him to the oversight committee. We`ll have more on that a little later on this hour. But the law really isn`t on the president`s side on stopping this kind of oversight. Being under audit doesn`t help him. Call it a red line doesn`t help him. Lying what Mueller looked at doesn`t help him.
The financial stuff is going to get out. I mean, it`s already getting out.
Just today, CNN is reporting that Deutsche Bank is now in the process of handing over their Trump-related financial records in response to a subpoena from the New York state attorney general, documents about Trump himself, the Trump D.C. Hotel, the Trump Chicago Hotel, the Trump Doral property in Florida, the failed Trump effort to buy the Buffalo Bills, which is an effort Michael Cohen says the president radically inflated his assets in an effort to get bank financing to do it. All those documents are now in the process of being handed over.
The president is scrambling to try to stop the money trail from being followed. But he is not going to be able to stop those records from getting out. Even if you just look at Deutsche Bank alone, they`re cooperating with Financial Services Committee too, and the Intelligence Committee in the House. We know as of today with the CNN reporting that they`re handing over subpoena documents in New York to New York law enforcement. I mean, it`s on.
The president is scrambling here, including making stuff up now about Mueller`s investigation saying Mueller covered all. This nobody else need to do it. Nice try, but it`s on. It`s happening.
And simultaneously, the second area, the other most acute area of trouble for the president, the other area for which he is scrambling the fastest right now, other than his financials is his newly emergent, very serious John Dean problem.
John Dean in 1973 had just left the Nixon White House under contentious circumstances. When Dean was called to testify before Congress before the Senate Watergate Committee, that Dean testimony ended up being blockbuster stuff about the Watergate cover-up and the president`s role in it, and dangling pardons and clemency to people to shut them up, and intimidating witnesses and obstruction of justice and the Nixon enemies list. And even from John Dean, they got the first inklings there might be a White House taping system.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The president almost from the outset began asking me a number of leading questions, which was somewhat unlike his normal conversational relationships I`d had with him, which made me think that the conversation was being taped and a record was being made to protect himself. I do not in fact know if such a tape exists, but if it does exist and has not been tampered with and it`s a complete transcript of the entire conversation that took place in the president`s office, I think this committee should have that tape because I believe it would corroborate many of the things this committee has asked me to testify about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: At that point, Watergate investigators didn`t know there was a White House taping system. John Dean indicates to them that things about the president`s behavior in the Oval Office suggested to him that there might be a taping system somewhere, and they should follow that up. They did. We know how that ended.
John Dean had been Nixon`s White House counsel. President Nixon tried to keep John dean from testifying after they called him to come testify before that Watergate committee. Nixon held a press conference in which he said, of course, he would object to dean testifying. He said, quote: No president could ever agree to allow the counsel to the president to go down and testify before a committee.
Of course, he felt that way. It was a nice try from Nixon, but it didn`t work. It didn`t work thanks in part to the response it earned from Sam Ervin, who was the head of the Watergate Committee in the Senate at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He let loose a blast at the president, which people will be talking about for some time. Ervin said under no circumstances will he accept unsworn testimony, and he said if subpoenas are issued for White House aides, and those aides don`t appear, he will ask the Senate to issue warrants for their arrest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, you want to stop White House staff from giving sworn testimony, Mr. President? We will arrest them. We will arrest your White House aides and your former White House counsel and anybody else you`re trying to keep from testifying to us. We will arrest them and compel their testimony. You sure you want the say that he can`t be here?
That was the response from the Watergate Committee in 1973. And so, yes, John Dean testified, and we know how that worked out in 1973. It took a long time after his testimony, but a little over a year later is when President Nixon had to resign. That`s when they moved toward passing the articles of impeachment against him.
Well, now, this president is trying to as of today stop all White House staffers, including specifically his White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying under subpoena from Congress. You can see why the president would be wanting to block all White House aides from testifying and specifically Don McGahn.
But it turns out the way President Trump is trying to stop that testimony before Congress not only looks like it won`t work, it might also be getting this president in further trouble. And what`s interesting to me about that prospect is that this president right now, president Trump is being warned about that now by a former lawyer for a president named Richard Nixon. And when Richard Nixon`s lawyer is warning the current president that he is doing stuff that might get him in trouble, that lands a little differently than when anybody else says it.
That lawyer joins us next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: With the White House now asserting that they will block all White House current and former personnel from responding to any congressional subpoenas, with the White House amping up its criticism of former White House counsel Don McGahn for his very effective testimony to the Mueller investigation, particularly about the president`s alleged obstruction of justice with a specific pledge from the Trump White House now that they will try to keep Don McGahn from testifying to Congress, despite the fact that he has already been subpoenaed to testify, there are now today warnings about the behavior of the president and the Trump White House here that are coming from some interesting and unexpected quarters.
Quoting from politico.com today, quote: This is risky, says William Jeffress, a prominent Washington defense attorney. Jeffress continues: I find it surprising because the president is taking these shots at witnesses who gave information to Mueller. I think he has got to be careful because there is an explicit federal statute punishing retaliation against witnesses. This is risky what the president is doing, particularly with Don McGahn.
You know, it`s one thing if you are the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, you`re Congressman Elijah Cummings or chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, and you`re out making this kind of argument about how the president is behaving and trying to block witnesses in coming before their committees, how the president might even be in trouble for behaving that way toward potential witnesses before those committees. You might expect that from those players in this drama, right? You would not necessarily expect it from one of President Richard Nixon`s lawyers, but that is who William Jeffress is.
And that makes it all the more interesting that he is issuing this warning today for the behavior of this president and this White House today.
Joining us now is William Jeffress. He is a lawyer who represented President Nixon after he left office. Mr. Jeffress, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It`s great to have you here.
WILLIAM JEFFRESS, FORMER NIXON ATTORNEY: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: In what sense do you mean that the president`s behavior right now might be -- might be risky, might be legally risky?
JEFFRESS: Well, through his tweets if nothing else, President Trump has made it clear that he is furious at a number of people, certainly including Don McGahn, including Michael Cohen, likely including others who provided information to Mr. Mueller. And that information made its way into the report and was embarrassing to President Trump.
Now, there is a criminal statute on the books. It`s called retaliation against witnesses. It punishes anybody who takes action to retaliate against a witness who has provided truthful information to law enforcement authorities.
And President Trump and his lawyers have got to be very cautious in taking any action other than words against any of these people who he is angry at.
MADDOW: In terms of -- what you just said there, other than words, with the kind of criticism that the president has levied already against people who have testified, potentially be shaky ground given the possibility of intimidation of witnesses being invoked here as a relevant statute, would it have to be some sort of act of furtherance to try to cause harm to those persons? Obviously, we have seen at least one act taken by the White House in that they have fired Don McGahn`s law firm with some White House anonymous sources telling reporters that that was taken specifically in response to Don McGahn essentially becoming an enemy of the White House based on his testimony.
JEFFRESS: The way the statute reads is if the president causes any harm to an individual in retaliation for his testimony, that`s a criminal offense carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years. And, yes, I think if you caused the firing of a law firm that caused harm to the witness and you did that specifically with intent to retaliate against the witness` testimony, that would unquestionably be a crime.
MADDOW: Mr. Jeffress, there is an interesting question arising now about whether or not the White House can block former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying. They have expressed that they want to assert executive privilege here. Obviously, this is something that was very interesting point of contention in the Watergate conflict.
A lot of people have said that because Don McGahn testified to the special counsel`s office, because his testimony to the special counsel`s office was in fact made public in the redacted version of the report that was released publicly, that doesn`t give the White House a very strong leg to stand on in terms of claiming that those things that he testified about are covered by privilege and can`t be conveyed to Congress.
What do you think of that debate?
JEFFRESS: Well, I agree with the point you just made, the fact that the executive privilege is designed to protect the confidentiality of communications between the president and his staff or between other government officials regarding government policy.
None of this is confidential anymore. Don McGahn talked freely to the special counsel. That testimony has been made public, and so long as the Congress confines its questions to Mr. McGahn to the subjects on which he talked to Mr. Mueller, I don`t think they have a leg to stand on.
But there is another reason. The other reason is Don McGahn is not a government employee. The government doesn`t have the right to demand that he keep his mouth shut. This is not attorney-client privilege where McGahn is bound by law or by ethics to keep his mouth shut about communications with the president.
He is a former employee. If the White House had the right to instruct former employees not to talk about their conversations with the president, we`d certainly have a lot fewer tell-all books by former White House staffers.
MADDOW: William Jeffress, attorney who represented former President Richard Nixon after he left office -- sir, thank you for helping us understand your perspective on this. I hope you come back. It`s a pleasure to have you here.
JEFFRESS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Congressman Elijah Cummings is chair of the Oversight Committee. He is not known for backing down when pushed. That`s why it was greeted with some surprise when he said this week that he would allow for a delay in the enforcement of a subpoena that he has already sent to the president`s accounting firm, a firm called Mazars, which seeks ten years of Trump`s financial record.
The president, of course, has filed a lawsuit to try to block Mazars from responding to that subpoena. In response to the president filing that lawsuit, it was a little surprising when Chairman Cummings said, OK, he was going to put a delay on this. He would be happy to wait until after there could be an initial court hearing on the president`s lawsuit. That will happen in about three weeks.
And I know there has been some impatience out there that Chairman Cummings might allow for that delay given that the Trump strategy here is clearly to run out the clock and delay everything as much as they can. Why would you give them a delay?
Here`s I think one little hint as to why Chairman Cummings might feel confident about just taking that delay. About just taking that and not worrying about it. It may be that he is just feeling very confident in his own side`s prospects of prevailing in that lawsuit, which was filed by the president.
In order to make their argument that Congress has no right to subpoena these records from Trump`s accounting firm, one of the things the president`s lawyers do is they make a sort of lengthy argument citing a Supreme Court case, Kilbourn versus Thompson from 1880, back to the 19th century.
It seems like a very erudite and advanced thing to do, right? Foundational president of the American judicial canon. This goes all the way back to 1880s, the precedent here that is relevant.
It should be noted that case was actually overturned in 1927. So, it has not been followed for 90 years. That case, they missed the whole part where that was overturned that is no longer the ruling precedent.
One law professor and former acting House counsel tells "The Washington Post," quote, by reaching back to the precedent to the 1880s, Trump`s lawyers are seeking to overturn the entire modern case law to respect Congress` investigative power. These suits look like an act of desperation by the Trump`s lawyers.
And it`s not the president`s only desperate act on this front. We`ve got news on that ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Yesterday, the White House ordered a former White House official who oversaw the issuing of security clearances, the White House ordered that official to defy a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee.
In response, that committee is now moving toward holding that former White House official in contempt. That was yesterday. Then today, the White House also ordered a Justice Department official to defy a subpoena from the oversight committee as well.
This is apparently going to be a theme. The Trump White House is now saying, President Trump himself is now saying they are going to defy basically all subpoenas from Congress. Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings responded today with a warning, not just to the White House, but to the people the White House is preventing from testifying.
Quote: These employees and their personal attorneys should think very carefully about their own legal interests rather than being swept up in the obstruction schemes of the Trump administration.
The Oversight Committee is a powerful body in Congress. Its members now have to figure out what to do in the face of this across-the-board decision by the White House that their subpoenas will be ignored and that officials who are subpoenaed will be ordered not to appear.
One of Elijah Cummings`s first moves as chairman when Democrats retook the House was to bring on to the committee some of the new tenacious house freshmen. In fact, he made one of them the vice chair of that committee.
Joining us now is Congresswoman Katie Hill, House vice chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Congresswoman Hill, it`s very nice to have you with us tonight. Thanks for being here.
REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): Thank you so much for having me.
MADDOW: So how does this standoff end? The White House is ordering people to ignore subpoenas from your committee, not just in terms of documents, but also in terms of appearing. How does this resolve?
HILL: I mean, this is completely unprecedented, right? We don`t have examples of this where we have attempt after attempt after attempt to obstruct every kind of oversight into this administration. It`s really embarrassing. And not just embarrassing, it`s dangerous.
So, right now, we have this investigation into security clearances where we have a whistle-blower telling us about absolutely dangerous practices that have potentially put our national security at risk, and to make it so that we are unable to conduct our duties of oversight is completely unprecedented and unacceptable. And what it boils down to is that what Mr. Cummings said is we have the -- the employees need to look at their own best interests, their own self-interests in this and not allow that obstruction to really guide them, the attempts of obstruction from the White House to really guide them.
And we`re going to have to follow this where it goes and use every possible tool in our tool kit and not take no for an answer.
MADDOW: I mean, that`s a pointed warning from the chairman, saying that these individual government employees and their personal attorneys need to consider their own legal status here if they`re defying subpoenas. They may be doing so on an order from somebody else, but they are the ones who are potentially going to be on the hook here.
What sort of legal liability are we talking here? I know yesterday the committee seemed to indicate that you`re moving toward holding this one White House official on the security clearances issue, you`re moving toward holding him in contempt.
What kind of penalties does that open him up to? What sort of leverage does that give you over him to compel his testimony?
HILL: So, there`s -- you know, when you told somebody in contempt, there are a few different things that can happen. That could mean jail time where we have a conundrum right now is that the Department of Justice is -- we`ve got Barr who is acing more as Trump`s personal attorney and so, I think where we have to figure out what the path that we go down is going to depend on whether we can count on the Department of Justice to really uphold the Constitution and uphold the power of Congress as an independent branch.
And if that`s not the case, we have to look at different options here. It`s important for us to get back into session next week to meet with the different chairman and leadership and figure out exactly where this leaves us. But what this shows more importantly to me than anything else is that we -- it should be undeniable to the American people that this administration is doing everything that it can to cover up so many facets of what it has done since what Trump has done both before and since he became president, and so many people within his administration, as well.
So, where do we draw the line and say as an memory people regardless of who is in power and that this is unacceptable and this has too many implications for the future of our democracy and not just this very moment we`re living in right now.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Katie Hill, the vice chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee -- thank you. You guys are in the thick of it right now. I know that a lot of these things are moving at once. I hope you`ll come back and keep us apprised as these things move forward.
HILL: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This one felt different before it even really started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. LEAH DAUGHTRY, FORMER DNC CHIEF OF STAFF: We say to the candidates, you can overlook us, dismiss us, demean us, and patronize us if you want to. But you do it at your own peril. You put us last on your list, we put you last on our list because our votes matter.
Our votes matter! Our votes matter! Our votes matter!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the Reverend Leah Daughtry today, former DNC chief of staff. She`s worked in Democratic politics for years. And that was how they opened up the floor today at the first ever She the People presidential forum where eight of the leading Democratic hopefuls for president this year made their case for why voters should pick them to be the Democratic Party`s nominee to go up against Donald Trump.
This was a presidential forum set up by and for women of color, 1,700 women from all over the country travelled to Houston today to be in this audience. And it was not just an audience. This was a participatory thing.
One by one, women got up on the stage to ask each of the eight candidates why they deserve their vote, how they`ll stand up for women of color. In the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections when Barack Obama was on the ticket, African-American women turned out to vote at a higher rate than any other demographic group in the country. Nobody voted for, when Barack Obama was on the ticket than African-American women.
And that changed in 2016. Turnout among African-American women dropped in 2016 and, of course, Democrats felt it, Democrats lost the White Houses in 2016 to Donald Trump. Winning over the votes of women of color in this country, inspiring women of color in this country to vote in great numbers, that is mission critical to any Democrat trying to win enough votes to become the nominee of the Democratic Party for president.
But crucially, it is also absolutely mission critical to getting enough votes to win the White House and in 2020 to beat Donald Trump. Women of color are the alpha and the omega of how you do it.
And that`s why it was so powerful for Democrats to have this event today. Today is the last day in which there will be only 19 candidates in the Democratic field. Tomorrow, the Democratic field will get a little bigger when former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to formally enter the race via a campaign video.
It`s already the biggest field of presidential candidates the Democrats have ever seen. It is going to get bigger with the biggest name yet with Joe Biden being added to the mix tomorrow. It`s only just starting to get as interesting as it`s going to get.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Thank you for being with us tonight. Again, tomorrow we are expecting big political news in the form of former Vice President Joe Biden becoming the 20th, 20th Democratic candidate to join the race for president which means now you can no longer count them on your fingers and toes alone.
After Joe Biden gets in there, if anybody else jumps in, you have to do fingers and toes and something else. It`s going to get awkward in all sorts of ways. We`re already in the biggest field we`ve had among Democratic candidates. Tomorrow, Joe Biden will the biggest name yet. Lots to come.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END